Journal Club: Asexuality and Disability

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Last month, the ace journal club discussed

“Asexuality and Disability: Mutual Negation in Adams v Rice and New Directions for Coalition Building” by Kristina Gupta, Chapter 13 of Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, edited by KJ Cerankowski and Megan Milks (2014).

As far as we know, this chapter is not accessible through the internet.

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer.  We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology.  Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access.  If you’re interested, please e-mail me at for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

Kristina Gupta discusses a legal case that effectively decided sex is a major life activity, and therefore can be used as a basis for claiming disability protections re: employment discrimination. Disability activists and asexual activists both engaged in mutual distancing from each other’s issues in their responses to the case.

Summary of Adams v. Rice
– Kathy Adams lost a position in the US Foreign Service, because she had breast cancer (even though it was in remission). She sued for discrimination against people with disabilities.
– Legally, an impairment counts as a disability if it caused a limitation in a major life function. The defendants only need to know about the impairment (breast cancer), and not the limitation in order for it to count as discrimination.
– Under the ADAAA, which went into effect in 2009, breast cancer (even in remission) would have been unambiguously counted as a disability, since it caused a limitation in a major life function: normal cell growth.
– However, this occurred in 2008, so instead they argued that surgeries and medication for breast cancer caused a limitation in her ability to form intimate relationships (which judges interpreted to mean sex).
– The defendants did not contest that sex was a major life function, and the majority opinion of the judges took it to be obvious. Adams won the case.
– In our research, we found that this was a 2-1 decision, and the dissent argued that it did not count as a disability because the impairment (breast cancer) did not overlap in time with the limitation (on sex).

Adams v. Rice discussion
– Prior to the ADAAA, the definition of disability was extremely limited.
– It’s weird how the conclusion about sex as a major life activity was such an incidental detail. How much other case law about things like low sexual desire, or rights to sex is or is going to be affected by weird legal loophole-seeking?
– Most of us weren’t too concerned about the use of this case as legal precedent. And while it could be used to increase pressure on aces in, e.g. a medical context, it’s a bit obscure for that.
– The case may be more of an indicator than an instigator.

Asexuality as a disability
– Adams v. Rice seems to imply that asexuality is protected from discrimination as a disability
– The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 both explicitly include homosexuality and bisexuality, as well as disorders of sexual behavior. But asexuality is not excluded.
– Is there room for rejecting asexuality as a disorder (or rejecting specific disorders like HSDD) while still making room for social disability style assessments?
– Perhaps there would be a benefit to grouping legal protections of all disadvantaged groups? We found a legal paper discussing the possibility of including LGBT and disabilities in the same antidiscrimination law.
– We all thought this idea was unworkable, since courts probably wouldn’t accept it, and we wouldn’t want to deal with the implications. Still, it’s an interesting thought experiment.

Mutual negation
– Gupta discussed the mutual distancing that occurs between asexuality and disability activists. We think this likely occurs between many other pairs of groups as well.
– We noted an asymmetry in the mutual negation, at least that which was discussed in the paper. Disabilities activists were quoted as saying asexuality is a myth, and all people are sexual. Asexual activists, on the other hand are shown saying that asexuality as a category is not a disability. The problem isn’t necessarily the conclusion, but the reasoning, based on misunderstandings of disability.
– Of course, some asexuals also make the false assertion that asexuals are not disabled.
– A lot of these problems seem to stem from lack of awareness of the other group’s concerns, and people feeling the need to remark on the intersection out of self-protection.
– Is there an ethical mandate for groups to become aware of each other’s nuances? Not necessarily, but if groups are going to make statements about each other, then they should educate themselves to make sure those statements are correct.

Room for allyship
– What work has been done in ace communities to fight mutual negation?
– We’re aware that there’s a lot of blogging on the topic, although we don’t have a linkspam ready.
– Accessibility of ace events comes up a lot, e.g. partnering with local disability orgs to arrange for sign language interpretation.
– There’s discussion of accessibility to various online platforms to screen readers.
– We briefly complained about AVENues being in an inaccessible ISSUU format.

A sign of the times
– The paper quotes disability activists as wanting access to sexual release, e.g. through sex workers. If this paper were written today, it would likely say something about incels. Incels as a cultural phenomenon have impacted the way access to sex is talked about.
– For example, incels are mentioned in Asexual Erotics by Pryzybylo and Ace by Angela Chen.

Funny coincidences
– When discussing mutual negation, Gupta pointed to a 2008 blog post by Elizabeth (then under a different name).
– The journal club can’t speak for Elizabeth but this was such a long time ago that it cannot be taken to represent Elizabeth’s current views.
– But it’s funny because Elizabeth is an ace with a disability and blogs on that subject.
– Also a funny coincidence, is that Gupta quotes one of the commenters, apparently unaware that she’s quoting (former) ace studies scholar Andrew Hinderliter under a pseudonym. Hinderliter is later cited again under a different pseudonym, although Gupta correctly identifies him the second time.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
This entry was posted in Articles, Intersectionality, Research and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Journal Club: Asexuality and Disability

  1. Pingback: Journal Club: Grounded Exploration of Asexuality and Disability | The Asexual Agenda

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